If there’s been one sliver of an upside to the bleak circumstances in which we currently find ourselves, it’s the extra free time we have to listen to music, discover new artists and delve into some of our past favourites. Writer Kez Whelan (also known for Filth X Collins, Shrykull and Unbeknownst) has been doing just this, and as a result has found time to rank some of his favourite bands’ albums. After taking on Celtic Frost, Bolt Thrower and Om‘s discographies, today’s list revolves around Florida’s premier death metal outfit (fight us on that if you want) Obituary, whose career has now lasted over three-and-a-half decades and stemmed ten albums of varying quality. Check out the list below and let us know if you agree in the comments.
Inked In Blood (2014)
Not an awful record but certainly the least interesting to my ears. It feels really bloated and lethargic, the riffs just have no kick to them. The death metal equivalent of beige wallpaper.
Back From The Dead (1997)
The last album before they first split up and you can definitely feel them running out of steam here, both the songwriting and production are nowhere near as powerful as on the albums that came before. The collaboration with Bully Boys is probably the most divisive thing here, but I think it’s actually the most interesting thing about the album, even if they don’t really pull it off too well. This ultra-groovy late ’90s Obituary sound feels like it would be really suited to a hip-hop crossover but this isn’t exactly the death metal equivalent of ‘Bring The Noise’ it could have been.
Frozen In Time (2005)
It’s decent but feels a bit restrained and basic. The title is fitting in several ways, partly because it really does feel like their sound has just been frozen from where they left off, but also because it feels like it hasn’t fully defrosted yet, it’s still a bit stiff and cumbersome. It has that “tentative comeback album” feel to it and feels very rudimentary.
Xecutioner’s Return (2007)
An even more self-consciously old-school sounding record after Frozen In Time, but it feels livelier and the guitar tone is a lot thicker. It has that same stodgy late-period feel to it and isn’t really all that memorable, but hey, Ralph Santolla’s leads are pretty wild though.
A really nice surprise after Inked In Blood, there’s a lot less flab on this one and the songs feel tighter and heavier in general. New lead guitarist Kenny Andrews seems to have had more time to gel with the band than he did on Inked In Blood, and his solos are utterly righteous here – crisp, melodic, shreddy but also always fitting the song and not being overly flashy for the sake of it. John Tardy’s voice is definitely showing signs of wear and tear but it doesn’t matter too much when they’re sounding this enthused again.
Darkest Day (2009)
This one’s great, and makes both Frozen In Time and Xecutioner’s Return feel like a warm-up. The energy is back in full, the riffs are punchier and a bit more imaginative. If Xecutioner’s Return felt like a somewhat forced “return to roots” record, then this one feels a lot more comfortable and effortless. It’s just Obituary being Obituary, but with a lot more focus and vigour than the other post-reunion records.
World Demise (1994)
It’s so bouncy! The hardcore influence is really strong on this one, but it still feels like a fairly unique combination of death metal and hardcore to me. It’s totally different to, say, Dying Fetus, or deathcore or any of the more modern primitive sounding hardcore-influenced OSDM bands. It’s just pure knuckle-headed groove and it’s so much fun. It’s maybe a bit too long and completely disintegrates the morbid atmosphere of the first few records, but it’s custom built for stage diving and mosh pit antics.
The End Complete (1992)
A fantastic album that only really suffers from the fact that it had to follow Cause Of Death, and doesn’t really improve on it in any way. It’s basically Cause Of Death Part Two but with less inventive guitar work, although it still has that classic Obituary feel to it. It’s not as memorable but it does have some really cool, creepy moments on it amidst all the bludgeoning grooves.
Slowly We Rot (1989)
Just an all-time classic. Whenever I hear the words “Florida death metal”, this album starts blasting in my brain. It’s got such a sweaty, humid feel to it and it’s so sinister in a way that a lot of the later stuff really isn’t – that opening riff of the title-track is like dank, muggy air wafting out of a crypt, it’s so evocative. The grooves are absolutely HUGE, the riffs are all stellar and they just have a really eerie, decaying quality to them too. Tardy’s vocal performance is incredible too, he sounds like a wild animal. Essential.
Cause Of Death (1990)
The absolute don. The macabre atmosphere of Slowly We Rot is still there but the songwriting is far more refined, the riffs are so damn powerful and James Murphy is an absolute beast on guitar, adding a sophistication and flair to the band’s sound that complements it perfectly without overpowering it or subtracting from that gleefully primitive vibe. It all flows so well too, it feels like one long piece of music in the best possible way – even the Celtic Frost (ranked here) cover fits perfectly in the tracklisting, they really make it their own and it suits the mood of the album down to the ground. And there are just so many tunes, too many to choose from. ‘Chopped In Half’? ‘Dying’? Absolute bangers, and the one-two punch of ‘Infected’ and ‘Body Bag’ is one hell of a way to open an album.
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Words: Kez Whelan